China's provinces strive to outdo each other at Expo

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The Independent Online

A river of liquor, a robotic version of a famous emperor and Shaolin monks -- China's provinces are going all-out to woo tourists and investors at Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

(AFP) -

A river of liquor, a robotic version of a famous emperor and Shaolin monks - China's provinces are going all-out to woo tourists and investors at Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

The nation's 31 provinces, regions and mega-cities are using exhibition space near China's towering national pavilion to market local attractions, lure foreign funds - and in some cases, convey a political message.

"They hope that visitors will flock to see their province, region or city thanks to the World Expo," Qian Bojin, deputy director of the Expo's China pavilion department, told AFP.

"They want to lure guests from abroad and from China into coming to invest, to participate in construction, in development."

Expo will open on May 1 and run for six months. Between 70 and 100 million visitors, 95 percent of whom are expected to be Chinese, will flood into Shanghai for the huge event.

Authorities aim to use Expo to showcase China's growing global clout in the same way the 2008 Beijing Olympics did, and provinces have jumped at the chance to make their own - sometimes quirky - statement on the world stage.

At the Guizhou pavilion, a mix of potent Maotai liquor from the southwestern province and water will cascade from a giant jug into a decorative river, Qian said.

The first 30 visitors of the day will get a cup of liquor while ethnic Miao girls in colourful dress sing to them - a traditional custom for hosting guests. And every 1000th person will be given a bottle of the pricey spirit.

Officials from Shaanxi province in the north are banking on history to draw visitors - robot versions of Tang dynasty Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) and his consort Yang Guifei, one of the four famed beauties of ancient China, will greet the masses.

Henan province meanwhile will feature daily martial arts routines performed by its legendary Shaolin monks.

"The pressure is huge," said Tong Genrong, deputy director for Henan's Expo organising committee.

"After all, the Expo is so big, there are so many highlights - it's not easy to stand out."

Planning for the regional pavilions began in 2006, and each province solicited designs from all over the world. All structures are expected to be completed this month, Qian said.

Each region will be given a five-day theme window at Expo, during which hundreds of performances and activities will be organised, he added.

Some of the pavilions have foregone the gimmicks to push a distinctly political message.

Official documents say the Tibet area is focused on a "new Tibet, new development, new life and new changes" - two years after the eruption of deadly riots against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region.

"Through items such as the Qinghai-Tibet railway, housing projects... the pavilion will showcase the tremendous changes under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party," according to the Expo documents.

Qian said Expo offered a particularly good opportunity for the more backward western regions of China to shine.

"They... are extremely enthusiastic as they know that more than 200 countries and international organisations will be coming," he said.

"So they realise they must publicise themselves to the world."

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